Everybody’s telling you who they think will win, you don’t need BallinEurope for that. Instead, Emmet Ryan looks at the side stories and oddities to watch out for in China before eventually making some picks
The 2019 FIBA World Cup is finally here after the extra bump in break because of the switch from using the same calendar as FIFA to the new cycle. That means we’ve had to wait 5 years since Spain 2014, where the hosts disappointed hard to the point that everything felt like a fait accompli in the end. Oh well, China should at least offer more competitive fare but that doesn’t mean it will be all fun and games. Here’s what you need to know.
Travelling fans and media are going to freak
The pic at the top of this piece was taken while in China a few weeks ago for a Huawei conference. Well it was more like a school tour and product launch than a conference but it was informative.
The Great Firewall, China’s all-powerful block of certain hyper popular websites and apps, works really well. Those travelling will have been advised to download Express or Nord VPN in order to get around it but, umm, yeah about that.
The reliability of VPNs there is sketchy as the firewall is really, really, effective. Nord is typically better but even it has its issues and if you can’t get around the firewall you are going to find some problems.
The entire Google suite is blocked, so that means no Gmail, Docs, or YouTube. Large media organisations, as in those bringing a serious operation because having dosh isn’t enough, can at least get around this by sending files overseas raw via Outlook and other Microsoft products (which aren’t blocked) but the casual traveller and most journalists won’t have such luck.
Everyone on site will find access to Twitter impossible without a robust VPN, as in one that’s working when they need it to, the same goes for Instagram and Snapchat, and then there’s the small matter of those creating written content.
WordPress is amongst the sites blocked by the Great Firewall, it’s one of the most popular content management systems going and where you host it won’t matter. The wp-admin version still involves being directed through WordPress itself which means, yup, blocked.
Fun times folks, fun, fun times. I had expected FIBA to get some dispensation for on site at the arenas at least and likely the fanzones but it appears that won’t be the case.
This isn’t the reason BiE is covering it entirely remotely but it certainly made the decision easier.
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The timezones break pretty nicely
The most pleasant surprise was undoubtedly how the scheduling for the tournament worked out. The earliest start for most European fans will be 9.30am, 8.30am for those of us in Ireland and the UK.
Even fans in North America catch decent breaks. Well some of them. Canada’s opening game (vs Australia) is at 3.30am EST, but then they get 7.30am EST (vs Lithuania) before back to 3.30am EST for Senegal. Not ideal but things break better for the USA.
Greg Popovich’s charges have 8.30am EST vs Czech Republic, again for Turkey, and again for Japan. Those are 5.30am starts for fans on the west coast of the US but still manageable. It could have been much, much, worse.
Through the knockout stages, the timings look set up to favour a blitzing run by the USA mainly because they haven’t been set yet. This screams of being built around optimising TV viewership (by contrast the Rugby World Cup in Japan, that starts in September, has every fixture scheduled to the exact time already and did so months ago).
About the USA
This is definitely the weakest side to come into a World Cup from the USA since 2002, the 2006 team may not have won but it was a serious looking roster, but it’s still got talent and they are rightly placed as favourites to threepeat.
The route for the US means it’s hard to see a wobble before the second phase, where they likely get Greece, and even then it’s far from a lock that Greece will treat that as the must-win vs the US given the way things might break for the knockout rounds which both will be expected to reach.
The way things break, USA likely don’t face a Serbia or Spain before the semi-final round and while Spain have been the closest to run the USA in competitive play since 2006 they still haven’t got a W over them in the professional era ever.
Serbia, Australia, and Greece could well end up on the opposite side of the bracket to the USA through the knockout rounds. That means that should Greece not go all out to win against the US the first time, the teams built best to take them down may well not even meet them until the title game.
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Sasha’s got the monkey off his back
Aleksandar Đorđević is one of the best players to ever come from this continent, it will be a crime if he doesn’t make it into the Naismith Hall of Fame someday, and is responsible for the moment that got this writer hooked on European basketball.
Yet still there was one big thing hanging over him coming into the past season whether it had any impact on him or not. Đorđević had led Serbia to silver at World, Olympic, and EuroBasket level. He had won domestic cups with Panathinaikos and Bayern Munich, but getting a really big trophy not just a dream run had eluded him in his coaching career up until May when his Virtus Bologna team downright dominated in the Basketball Champions League title game. It may only be the third tier trophy in European basketball but it was a whopper for Đorđević to get and the momentum has to help running into this competition.
Nigeria’s odd dark horse status
Nigeria have impressed mightily in the build-up to the competition and become the sexy pick to make a bit of a run as an unfancied outsider. The thing is, it seems everyone is picking them as the unfancied outsider which sort of makes them fancied. At this stage we should probably just argue that this is a solid team that should be favoured to make some noise.
In a group with Russia, Argentina, and Korea, there’s definitely a chance to progress, and phase two gives them two of China, Poland, Venezuela, and Cote d’Ivoire. Based on the way they have played in preparation, I’d expect Nigeria to at least flirt with a place in the quarter finals and I generally expect them to get there.
The hot mess you need to watch
With only three games each in the opening phase, there are fewer weird games or at least games with potential to get weird to pick from. What we’re looking for are harsh clashes in styles that lead to some mad stuff.
One game leaps off the page like no other. Mark it down for 4 September, that’s Wednesday, at 15.30 local time (8.30 Irish/UK, 9.30 CET) when Angola take on Philippines. Individually, both are compelling sides to watch but it’s going to be a mad mix of approaches. It’s unlikely either gets out of the group with Italy and Serbia so this one will feel like a gold medal game for both.
And finally, the picks…
We technically call all our picks fearless predictions but, meh, I’m really relaxed today writing this so it’s all good. Not going with team of the tournament by name but instead betting hard on the format with an asterisk
Team of the tournament
2x gold medal team, 1x silver, 1x bronze, 1x fourth
The asterisk is if China makes the quarter finals in which case Yi Jianlian will totally take the spot from the fourth place team.
Well this probably gives away my gold pick but, much as I want to go for Boban who is my spirit animal, I’ve got to say Nikola Jokic.
I’m picking the mild upset. This isn’t Serbia’s strongest possible team, entirely due to injuries, but it’s still a serious line-up with real talent. I’ve got to go with them here beating the USA in the final. Bronze will be Spain vs Greece and, oddly, it’s the Spaniards I’m more wary of not even getting in the mix for it. I’m going with Giannis to get the medal, Greece get bronze. As an aside, if it breaks that Serbia face Greece in the semi-finals, I’m circling that now as game of the tournament.
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